Most men think of belts as a necessity to hold up their pants, but belts were worn as a fashionable accessory by men long before they wore trousers. Back in the Bronze Age, belts encircled robes, tunics, and other draped items of clothing. Japanese obis, worn with traditional kimonos, are also a kind of buckleless belt.

As the use of belts evolved, they were worn increasingly by men in military settings, with the intention of emphasizing the trimness of their waists—a tight belt was an indication that a man was fit, strong, and able to put up a good fight. Warriors, knights, and soldiers in cultures all over the world sported elaborate belt buckles to indicate their rank and status. In some cases, belts were also used to hang weapons, tools, pouches, or the precursors to wallets, which were necessary before the invention of pockets.

For women, belts went in and out of fashion. In the Middle Ages, they served the functional purpose of holding small purses and fans, and in the Renaissance, fashionable ladies wore dainty, decorative belts and buckles.

At the end of the Victorian Era, the belt buckle flourished as a decorative-art object. European artisans who subscribed to the principles of Art Nouveau produced metalwork buckles with delicate, sinuous lines. In the American Southwest, members of tribes such as the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni produced silver concho belts and buckles adorned with stones like turquoise for the gawking, railroad-riding tourists to take home. Concho belts are still popular today, although they are often made of cheaper metals.

In general, though, belts were a poor cousin to suspenders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because Victorian fashion demanded that men wear their pants high, belts could not reasonably hold them in place. Around the 1920s, though, it became stylish to wear pants at a more natural waistline, and then men started to turn to belts as a means for keeping their britches up. Even the denim dungarees manufactured by Levi Strauss and Company, which was founded in the 1880s, took until 1922 to feature belt loops.

For women, belts have always been more about adornment than utility. In ladies’ fashion, belts have been used to emphasize or create the appearance of small waists, to spruce up a little black dress, or to coordinate or accent separates. At the turn of the 20th century, women took to boned silk sashes with V-shapes at the front to flaunt their tiny waistlines and complement the trend for blouses and long skirts. Today, women also wear belts on the hips (a trend made popular in the ’60s), or just below the bust line.

Leather, which became a common material for shoes and belts around the turn of the 20th century, is perhaps the most popular material for belts, but belts have been made of every material imaginable—alligator, snakeskin, metal mesh, chain links, beads, canvas, nylon, fake leather, and plastics, to name but a few. Some leather or fake-leather belts are braided, hand-tooled, or studded...

Fashion trends for both men and women have vacillated between wide and skinny belts, as well as belts that can be double looped or tied instead of fastened with buckle. Belts can be embroidered, ruched, beaded, and cutout. Some are adorned with charms, beads, sequins, rhinestones, or bells. High-end designers like Judith Leiber and Christian Dior used belts to extend their fashion statements.

Western-style hand-tooled belts, sometimes with words or names embossed on them, probably came into fashion at the same time Hollywood started producing Western films, making big cowboy belt buckles all the rage among country singers, rodeo competitors, and weekend two-steppers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Ventagli.org

Ventagli.org

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Antiquespectacles.com

Antiquespectacles.com

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Stunning Vintage " Chanel " Suede Belt With Massive Jewelled Buckle Rare FindVintage 90s Made In Italy Charcoal Gray Leather Belt Sz SVintage Western Leather Belt With Sterling Belt Buckle Women Or Child 32 LengthVintage Judith Leiber Leather Belt Gold French Panel Chatelaine Etruscan Runway Stephen Sprouse For Barneys New York Hot Pink Neon Velcro Belt Size Large RareVintage Snake Skin 80s Brick Red Leather Belt Sz XsVintage 1980's Paquette Nantucket Basket Gold Plated Belt Buckle With ScrimshawVintage Native American Style Thunderbird Nickel Silver Belt, Stretch 24"-37"Ralph Lauren Designer Leather Canvas Belt VintageBeautiful Vintage Belt Black Velvet With Gold Floral Embroidery & StonesBeaded Native American Tribal Black Leather BeltVintage 80s Cognac Leather Garment Buckled Belt Sz Xs Vintage Silver Tone Concho Belt Plastic Turquoise CabochonsVintage 80s Brown & Teal Heavily Studded Leather Belt Sz LRare Ben King Original 1950's Neiman Marcus 3" Wide M Black Leather Belt Adjust.Vintage Braided Brown Leather Belt W/ Mm Ltd, Chicago Coin Belt Buckle- 1983Vintage German Silver Plated Rodeo Roper Belt BuckleVintage: , Leather Weight Lifting Belt (dee Tee)Vintage Justin Leather Belt & Buckle, Conchos Braiding, Bone, Beads, 1991, Sz 32Vtg Lot 4 Metal Chain Dangle Butterfly Coin Dress BeltVintage Ladies Alpaca Silver Western Belt Buckle W Gold WashVintage Sterling Silver Westinghouse 15 Years Award Belt Buckle4 Beautiful Retro Vintage 1960's Metal Mesh Stretch Belts 2 Are Accessocraft NycVintage Lot 1980's Plus Size 1x-2x Ladies Belts Leather Woven Wrap Beads Metal